Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United
Man of the Match - Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
After all the anticipation and waiting throughout the week, Arsenal and Manchester United, just a decade back the fiercest rivals in the Premier League, produced an insipid uninspiring performance, where more often than not, it seemed as if no side wanted to win this game of football.
Kieran Gibbs replaced Nacho Monreal in defence, after the Spaniard’s recent average performances. There was a start for Tomas Rosicky, in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who dropped to the bench. Serge Gnabry was dropped altogether to make place for French striker Yaya Sanogo, who made his return to football after 5 months on the sidelines.
Apart from the usual stuff that comes along with an Arsenal vs Manchester United match, there was also the return of Robin van Cunty to the Emirates for a second time, since he jumped ship to Manchester United in 2012. Darren Fletcher was dropped for Tom Cleverley, while Ashley Young made way for Antonio Valencia.
It was an eerily similar start as the Liverpool game, as United almost struck in the 2nd minute. Arteta threw away possession in a danger less area, off Szczesny’s pass. van Cunty created space, but his shot wasn’t powerful enough as Szczesny made a comfortable save.
The opening 5 minutes also saw the home side carve out 2 great chances to score. First, Jack Wilshere’s shot was cleared for a corner, before Olivier Giroud’s header went narrowly wide, with the goal wide open. A Tomas Rosicky shot deflected towards de Gea, who saved with relative easy. After this, the game slipped into utter mediocrity.
In the 19th minute, van Cunty beat the offside trap, but his right footed effort fizzed past the post. Giroud had a couple of chances, one of which was deflected off Vidic, who put in a big performance at the back for the visitors. The other chance went over, after having been set up by Arteta.
The game looked like a battle between two Conference sides, as neither team looked desirous of a win. Both sides were guilty of losing possession cheaply, as the midfield battle started getting increasingly monotonous. Rafael dazed himself after a clash with Giroud, and was taken off at half-time, being replaced by Rio Ferdinand, with Chris Smalling moving to right-back.
If the fans had any hope that the match would spring to life in the second half, they would end up being disappointed as both sides continued to dilly-dallying the ball in midfield, with little intent. Mesut Ozil, however, was putting an increasingly improved performance, looking to create space and bringing in the full backs into play with his intelligent play. Quite often, he drew in United’s defenders and midfielders, thus creating space for Cazorla, Rosicky and the full backs to exploit.
Jack Wilshere was however peripheral, and was constantly thwarted in his advanced. The match sprung to a bit of life when Laurent Koscielny rose highest to meet a corner, but his header was cleared off the line by Antonio Valencia. Olivier Giroud was then bought down by Nemanja Vidic, and should have gotten a penalty, but the referee did not oblige.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adnan Januzaj came on for Tomas Rosicky and Juan Mata respectively, as both managers looked to infuse some creativity, as it was increasingly churning out to be a game where the first goal would win the match.
Another great chance went begging by, when a cross from the right from Bacary Sagna whizzed past the post, with Giroud failing to get a leg on it, under pressure from Vidic. United got the best chance of the match, when a Rooney cross was met by the head of van Cunty, despite pressure from Mertesacker, but Wojciech Szczesny pulled off a fine point blank save to keep the scoreboard still.
Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla combined brilliantly, but Cazorla’s fine effort was matched by an equally fine save from his compatriot de Gea. Ozil, off a free kick had another chance, but the goal never came. It ended scoreless.
A draw then, takes us just 1 point behind the poor, wretched souls from Fulham Road, Chelsea. A draw against Manchester United ain’t a bad result, but come to think of it, this was United’s worst team in nearly 2 decades now, and currently languishing in 7th, 14 points behind Arsenal.
I was perplexed at the manager’s decision not to bring Podolski on, a striker who has had instant impact off the bench whenever he has come on. It also perplexes me as to why Serge Gnabry wasn’t named on the subs bench, with a young striker right out of League 2, and 5 months of injuries taking his seat alongside Lord Bendtner.
This was a match, which we could have, and should have won. After the dramatic afternoon at Anfield, where Liverpool gave the Gunners a hiding, and basement club Fulham’s draw at Old Trafford, both sides approached the game with a mindset of not conceding and more importantly, not losing.
The only bright spots were the performances of Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil, both of whom put in vastly improved displays. Olivier Giroud looks exhausted, and Arsene Wenger’s insistence on not requiring another striker could prove costly come the end of the season. The French striker, has been starting almost every game, since joining the club, and faces gigantic Premier League defenders week in, week out. Surely, there has to be some breaking point. He looked lackluster, unable to hold on to the ball effectively and out of touch, as Nemanja Vidic marked the forward brilliantly.
You got to feel for Ozil, a midfielder who needs fast runners, players to run in between channels, players who can get in behind defences. At the moment, the Gunners lack that. With Theo Walcott out till the end of the season, and Aaron Ramsey still on the road to recovery, it could take a while, before Ozil shows his full potential.
Jack Wilshere had an average game, as he came face to face with familiar faces Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, who did a good job of slowing down the game, and keeping Arsenal’s midfield at bay.
The season gets harder and harder, as Liverpool, tormentors from last week, pay a visit to the Emirates on Sunday, for the FA Cup clash, still billed by the media as Arsenal’s best chance of silverware this season. That’s before the European champions, and probably the best football side on the planet, Bayern Munich arrive on Wednesday night.
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